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Lonely Planet best places to travel 2021: The full list, from Kazakhstan to Gothenburg

The Independent logo The Independent 17/11/2020 Helen Coffey
a large bridge lit up at night © Provided by The Independent

Lonely Planet has released its long-awaited list Best in Travel list for 2021 – and in this strangest of years, there’s a twist.

While the travel giant normally issues lists including the best countries, cities and regions, the 2021 offering is split into three new categories: Best in Sustainability, Best in Community and Best in Diversity.

The idea is to celebrate the people and places shaping the future of travel, according to the publication.

“Travel in 2021 and beyond will be a much more considerate exercise than it has been ever before,” said Lonely Planet CEO Luis Cabrera.  

“With travellers cautiously re-engaging with the world and focusing on ensuring their impact is safe and positive for host communities, we have decided to highlight destinations and individuals that truly enable visitors to make genuine contributions through regenerative travel.”

Highlights include Gothenburg, Sweden, which was crowned the best sustainable city stay; Greece, named the best food destination; and Kazakhstan, which won best accommodation in the Community category, thanks to its rural homestays.

The UK was given the nod in one category - Best Tour went to Invisible Cities, a UK city walking tour company and social enterprise providing people affected by homelessness the opportunity to become tour guides in their own city, while also generating funds for homeless projects.

Here’s the list in full:

Best in Sustainability

Best City Stay

Gothenburg, Sweden: Topping the Global Destinations Sustainability Index, the city has introduced a range of progressive and measurable solutions to achieve fossil-independence by 2030.

Best Islands

Palau, Pacific Ocean: Progressive policies and protective measures have put the pristine archipelago at the vanguard of environmental sustainability.

Best Accommodation

Grootberg Lodge in Etendeka Plateau, Namibia: A luxurious low-impact lodge helping to preserve lion and black rhino populations through community empowerment.

Best Cycling

Virginia Mountain Bike Trail: A nearly 500-mile trail across the Blue Ridge Mountains and Appalachian Trail gives bike-packers a low-impact way of interacting with the environment.

Best Food Destination

Greece: Organic produce markets and island seafood makes it an unintentional leader of the world’s most sustainable food.

Best Train Journey

Rocky Mountaineer: This slow-travel option has reduced its CO2 emissions by 18 tonnes per year, increased onboard recycling and introduced initiatives to protect of local wildlife.

Best Emerging Destination

Antigua & Barbuda: On the front line of climate change impact, the islands have made sustainability a priority, banning single-use plastics and styrofoam and established a ‘Green Corridor’ of environmentally friendly businesses.

Best Conservation Programme

Rwanda: The International Gorilla Conservation Programme has brought back the wild mountain Gorilla population back from the brink of extinction.  

Best Walks

Le Vie di Dante, Italy (Roads of Dante): An epic 245-mile network of trails completable only by foot or bike.

Best storyteller

Soraya Abdel-Hadi: The Soraya.earth blog and social media channels combine a love of travel with a desire to protect the Earth.


Gallery: These are the world's best sustainable travel destinations (Harper's Bazaar (UK))

Best in Community

Best tour

Invisible Cities: A UK city walking tour company and social enterprise providing people affected by homelessness the opportunity to become tour guides in their own city, while also generating funds for homeless projects.

Best restoration

Australia: Following the worst bushfire seasons in history, the rainforests, sapphire coasts and endemic wildlife are slowly rising from the ashes thanks to a number of community restoration efforts.

Best Tourism Project

The Burren Eco Tourism Network, Co Clare:  Bringing over 60 local enterprises together to become a global leader for sustainable tourism.

Best Accommodation

Kazakhstan: Rural villagers are trained in hospitality to provide homestays while acquiring fresh economic opportunities for the local community.

Best Immersion

Faroe Islands: The close-knit community provides personable, home-hospitality tourism and invites voluntourists to help preserve the natural landscape.

Best Revitalisation

Medellín, Colombia: Transforming from the world’s most dangerous city to its most innovative through community-driven revitalization.

Best Trekking

Tesfa Tours, Ethiopia: Locals lead perspective-altering treks through the extraordinary landscapes and homestays.

Best Storyteller

Hesham Moadamani: Berlin based tour guide for Refugee Voices Tours uses his personal experience of fleeing the Syrian civil war, drawing parallels between the current Syrian conflict and the history of migration in Germany.

Best Small Business

Footprint Café, Siem Reap Cambodia: A social enterprise blending wholesome Khmer cuisine and a unique approach to coworking and community empowerment.

Best Expat Storyteller

Georgette Jupe, Girl in Florence: Through the lens of local artists and artisans her blog offers travellers a deeper connection to Italy’s most culturally significant city.

Best in Diversity

Best Under-Explored History

Gullah Islands, USA: The isolation of the islands allowed the Gullah and Geechee people to foster the most comprehensive African cultural heritage in the USA.

Best Cultural Diversity

San Diego, California: A diverse artist haven, cultural hot spot beach city shaped by the Indigenous, Spanish, Mexican and American communities.

Best Welcoming Destination

Amman, Jordan: Its origins stemming from Levantine and Bedouin traditions, the famed Jordanian hospitality is what gives the capital city its soul.

Best Emerging Voice

Gabby Beckford: Founder of the Young Travellers Network and cofounder of the Black Travel Alliance seeking to empower travellers and increase Black representation in the travel industry.

Best Accessible Destination

Costa Rica: Strict accessibility laws ensure Costa Rica is a wheelchair user’s paradise.

Best Multi-generational Destination

El Hierro, Canary Islands: This far-flung, go-slow jewel of Spain is an environmentally minded escape that enamours travellers of all ages.

Best Indigenous Food

Hiakai restaurant, Wellington, New Zealand: Māori-Samoan chef Monique Fiso brings native ingredients and Indigenous cooking techniques to the fine dining stage.

Best Inclusive Storyteller

Jeff Jenkins: The Chubby Diaries blog provides practical information for plus-sized travellers.

Best Inclusive Tours

Wheel the World, California: A travel company that empowers people with disabilities to enjoy travel experiences in over 30 destinations, in 15 countries.

Best LGBTQ+ Storytellers 

A Couple of Men: The Amsterdam-based bloggers share insights on LGBTIQ-friendly travel destinations with the aim to inspire and motivate travellers.

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